New business challenges: JWT's Jeffrey says he has 'lots to do'

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As J. Walter Thompson's new CEO, Bob Jeffrey faces challenges, including adding to the agency's creative reputation and improving new business. But his most difficult task will be to reorganize the agency's structure to deliver more integrated communications to clients.

"We've got a lot of work to do," he said. "The most important thing is to acknowledge that we have the DNA, we have the world-class heritage."

Short-term, the shop must digest a big helping of additional business from parent company WPP Group's August acquisition of Cordiant Communications. Mr. Jeffrey plans to launch a new health-focused advertising practice, Health@ JWT, for client Pfizer globally.

Longer-term, he must deal with building new business. JWT's "new business presentations are not consistently bulletproof," said one agency-review consultant.

JWT's wins in North America reflect that: outside of Office Max ($40 million in billings) and Providian Financial ($3 million) won this year, the agency's big new accounts came from Cordiant's Bates: T. Rowe Price and Estee Lauder. Much of Mr. Jeffrey's attention in 2002 and into 2003 focused on fixing its Chicago office, where he replaced office head Brian Heffernan; later the shop lost its Miller Brewing Co. account. Client Kraft Foods is also now re-evaluating its compensation plan, which may negatively affect the office. Earlier this month, its San Francisco office lost Sun Microsystems, a client that Mr. Jeffrey played a significant role in moving to JWT from Lowe.

Many credit Mr. Jeffrey, 50, with boosting JWT New York's creative output since he joined in 1998. "I think Bob is one of the most refreshing new leaders in the industry," said Tom Rosenwald, founding partner of recruiter Ray & Berndtson, New York.

making it better

After his elevation to North American chief, Mr. Jeffrey named new creative directors in Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Atlanta and Houston. "Now we have to take what we have and make it better," he said. Expectations are that he'll take a similar approach to the managing creative around the world.

The strategy starts with hiring the right people, he said. "It is the navigation that is the challenge, disrupting the status quo."

But the status quo at the agency, according to observers, is that it's solid, but not superb. "They are a powerful aircraft carrier, not a destroyer," said agency search consultant Dick Roth of Roth Associates. "They can attack everything and have world-class equipment, but they're not like a Crispin Porter, which is a destroyer."

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